UTV's new Irish channel won't have to pay costly state levy
UTV's new Irish channel will avoid a state levy that costs its competitors hundreds of thousands of euro.
The Northern Irish TV station, which is setting up a new channel in the Republic, has applied for a licence through a rarely used law that bypasses a broadcasting levy paid for by most of the rest of the country's radio and TV stations.
The broadcasting levy is the main source of income for the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland (BAI), the organisation tasked with regulating content sent out on Irish airwaves.
The BAI earns upwards of €5m a year from the levy, according to its most recent annual reports, with RTE and TV3 contributing the bulk of it.
But UTV, which plans to launch a dedicated Irish TV channel next January, will not be required to cough up anything for it.
All UTV must pay to the BAI, the organisation said, was a €1,500 application, and a €2,000 licence fee each year after that.
This is because it has only applied for a "television content provision contract" – which imposes far fewer obligations than the licences held by RTE and TV3 because it plans to produce very little original, Irish-themed content.
Setanta Sports is the only other television station to hold this form of licence, sources said, because Setanta similarly buys rather than produces most of its content.
Talks between the BAI and UTV on the contract began earlier this week, and are expected to go through without a hitch.
The vast majority of UTV Ireland's content will be bought from UK producers, mainly ITV, including shows like 'Coronation Street', instead of indigenous Irish-produced programmes.
Other shows on its list include 'Emmerdale' and 'The Jeremy Kyle Show', which have been poached from TV3.
The only indigenous content planned for now is a one-hour, peak-time news, current affairs and community programme, though UTV has said it will build up this kind of programming once the station is up and running.
BAI chairman Bob Collins has previously called the legislation that allows broadcasters to bypass the levy "unfair".
"That is anomalous and, on the face of it, unfair, but it is what the law provides," he told a Joint Oireachtas Committee on Transport and Communications in November.
His organisation has also expressed concern about the growing imbalance between Irish-produced and international programmes.
Other than this, however, the BAI has been broadly welcoming of UTV's decision.
"Its entry will undoubtedly have some impact [on TV3 and RTE] but it will probably also offer advantages to the audience in terms of additional choice and content made in Ireland if what it identifies as its plan comes to fruition," Mr Collins said.